X marrying Y <> Y marrying X?

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Tue Sep 11 19:13:11 UTC 2007

At 1:32 PM -0400 9/11/07, Benjamin Zimmer wrote:
>On 9/11/07, Laurence Horn <laurence.horn at yale.edu> wrote:
>>  I wasn't thinking of that particular tape.  I was recalling testimony
>>  by Clinton, not Lewinsky, to which N. Y. Times op-ed columnist
>>  Maureen Dowd was referring in her column of 9/16/98:
>>  The president admits trying to mislead Paula Jones' lawyers, but
>>  denies lying under oath. He admits Monica had sex with him, but
>>  denies he had sex with Monica. He denies that oral sex (the second
>>  word of which is sex) is sex.
>Reminds me of the complaints last year about classifying Pluto as a
>"dwarf planet" but not a "planet"...

Exactly.  I use the Dowd passage as part of a homework exercise on
intersective modifiers in Intro Semantics; students are expected to
find the fallacy by adducing examples like "peanut butter" ("He
denies that peanut butter (the second word of which is butter) is
butter"), "sea horse", and "phone sex", but I was thinking of citing
"dwarf planet" as another excellent example, and saved some Op-Ed
pieces that came out just after the astronomers' vote on this.

>>  I forget (or rather "have no recollection of") the occasions on which
>>  these various admissions and denials took place.
>Well, Clinton rather famously testified that "I have not had sex with
>her as I defined it." I don't know of any testimony where he "admits
>Monica had sex with him," so the putative asymmetry may simply be a
>Dowdian creation.

I suppose that could be.  I can imagine a Jesuitical argument for
either proposition--that (given what we now think we know) she had
sex with him but not vice versa, or vice versa.


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